creative chit-chat

Ingrid Deuss


Underdog. That’s how she likes to describe herself. Ingrid Deuss is no average gallerist. By chance she ended up in the gallery circuit and she’s pushing her way into the world of photography by commuting between Antwerp and New York. It’s an intense journey that hasn’t left her unharmed. Gradually she understood there’s a strong relationship between the arts and politics, and she learnt the rules by violating them first. „Belgium is not into photography, although it’s slightly changing. It’s my job to educate people, to show them what’s good and what’s bad and to convince there’s a difference between the taking and the making of a photograph.” We meet Ingrid, the professional, on the ground floor of a 1930’s building in Antwerp. And we have coffee with Ingrid, multitasker, mother, friend and wife, on the top floor of the same building, in her private quarters. 

You ended up in the gallery circuit by accident. How does that happen with a space like this?

Ten years ago we bought this apartment. And it was my bookkeeper who convinced me to have a look at the space downstairs, which was for sale at the time.We made a pretty good deal when we bought it. We removed suspended ceilings and the carpet and did electricity work.When everything was done, we came to the conclusion the space was too impressive to be used merely as an office space.


And this insight lead you to become a gallerist?

No, not at all. I never had the idea of starting a gallery, especially not in this neighborhood. I put artworks on the wall in terms of a living gallery. I wanted to showcase what I was working on. And my husband Olivier also used it to create decors. The exhibition Smoking Kids by Frieke Jansens marked an overturning point. The expo was a big hit and made me decide to really go for it. I said to myself: Let’s do it, but not in the typical way. Let’s do it my way. My dream got shattered quite quickly after talking to collectors and gallery holders, who told me that it takes approximately eight to ten year to make a gallery profitable and to tell my own story.


Your story? Isn’t a gallery all about the story of the artist? 

Your personal story as a gallerist is very important. People have to know you and trust you. They have to be certain that your taste equals quality. When Jan Hoet Junior argues something is good, people trust his judgment. I hope to achieve the same kind of respect one day. In Knokke (seaside resort on the Belgian coast) Jan introduced me to a whole lot of collectors and I am very grateful for that. The gallery is not a showcase, it’s much more than that.


It’s much bigger than the Belgian boundaries isn’t it? How come photography is not popular over here?

Local collectors tell me they don’t invest in photography, but they do own analogue work of Man Ray and Robert Mapplethorpe, which means they do know good photography when they see it. Nevertheless, they prefer to work with big galleries from abroad, than to work with small local players. A gallerist once told me he started his carrier in New York, before opening his gallery in Belgium. This way he could use his foreign contacts, for Belgians are not into photography.


They might not be interested in unknown talent, but what about Andy Warhol? A while ago you sold  his polaroids in Belgium? How did that go? 

A friend of mine lives in New York and she introduced me to a big collector and investor. After a nice talk, he told me I could act as an intermediary to sell his polaroids in Knokke. In Belgium people were primarily suspicious. Nobody knew me and there I was selling authentic Andy Warhols. It was a good experience though. By acting as a mediator I am able to bring big names to Belgium and to sell them here. Moreover, it gives my artists the chance to be exposed and sold in the States. It works both ways.


If it takes you eight years to make your gallery profitable, you sure have enough time to experiment and to clearly define your own path, isn’t it? I understand you combine the gallery with more commercial work. 

It won’t take me eight years to get there (laughs.) Last year I found the balance between my gallery and production work. The gallery is on top of my list, but financially it’s not always the best option. That’s why I continue to mix both and give a 100% of my effort. It’s not an easy route and sometimes I ask myself why I make things so complicated. But there’s no other way to make my gallery survive. I have to sell. The artist has to grow, make new work and I have to continue creating new exhibitions.

You exclusively display photography. Why are you so fascinated by this medium?

I am familiar with it. I studied photography and I have a clear vision of what’s good and what’s not and if it’s technically well executed. I only exhibit work that I like. I can’t say the same about my commercial work, because it’s my duty to ensure everything is perfectly carried out. It’s a fast-paced industry and there’s always photo editing involved. I miss the handicraft, analogue photography, in which you use everything you see when the moment of the photo shoot occurs. This sometimes means hour-long waits for the right light. Analogue photography starts with the choice of camera, the film and photo paper afterwards. I’m not against digital photography. Each good photographer thinks analogue, even when he work digitally.

Do people think differently about photography, now that smartphones and reflex cameras have made the craft of photography a little more accessible? 

We have to educate people in terms of photography. The works that I sell are of institutional value and the difference lies in the way of recording, development and print. Take the polaroids of Andy Warhol. They date from the Sixties and they are still in perfect shape. It has to do with quality. There are a lot of misconceptions about photography. There’s a difference between the taking and the making of a photograph . In my gallery I go for the pure, often emotional photo story with multiple layers. I like showing unique works and you have to see photography in real life, you have to feel it. But it takes a lot of work to bring this message across in Belgium. But it’s about to change, I can feel it.

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Coffeeklatch stands for ‘Slow journalism using a fast medium.’ Magali Elali and Bart Kiggen created the blog as a creative chitchat featuring creative entrepreneurs in their homes over coffee, including interesting people telling intriguing stories. It celebrates storytelling and creativity in all its forms, from fashion design to architecture. Read More


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